Before grunge or Starbucks ever took hold in Seattle, the Salad Queen cooked me an Indian curry. Back then there were no Indian restaurants to speak of, so during dinner she regaled me with stories of fabulous feasts she’d had as a girl growing up in England. Quite frankly, I didn’t understand a tenth of what she was describing.
Later at a restaurant in Victoria, BC, I got the full treatment. Dark, soft-spoken men in Sarwal Kameez hovered by our table. Massive fern fronds dipped in the autumn breeze; sitar music wafted in the fragrant air. My eyes got wide when our waiter put before us an assortment of goodies: samosas, pakoras, and sauces for dipping. I don’t remember the main course, but I do remember it came on a plate that had spaces around the rim for all kinds of nibbles – peanuts and savory herbs and dabs of mango chutney and mint; yogurt with cucumber and dried currants and the first tamarind I ever tasted. My senses, which until then had been slumbering in a sort of suburban purgatory, came alive that day.
I’ve had many decent Indian meals since, in London, Manchester, Vancouver and even here in Seattle, where the Indian scene is (finally!) alive and kicking. While most restaurants are not so formal or exotic as that one in Victoria, they all have in common dishes made with freshly ground spices with flavors to wake up even the sleepiest of palates. And we always order vegetable samosas – pastries filled with potato, carrot, peas and spices – to begin the meal. It wouldn’t be a real Indian feast otherwise!
Here’s my take on them.
Makes 10-12 large filled pastries
For the crust:
2 cups of all-purpose flour
3 ounces of plain Greek-style yogurt
3 Tablespoons of butter
¾ teaspoon of salt
6-8 Tablespoons of cold water
For the filling:
1 pound of red potatoes, boiled in their skins
2 Tablespoons of coriander seed
8 ounces of carrot, diced
½ of a medium-sized yellow onion (4 ounces), finely chopped
3 Tablespoons of butter
½ teaspoon of turmeric
½ teaspoon of curry powder (Madras or similar)
¾ teaspoon of salt
1 cup of frozen peas
1 teaspoon each yellow mustard seed, whole coriander seed, and butter
Make the pastry dough: In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of flour and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Using 2 knives or a pastry cutter, cut in 3 Tablespoons of butter until the pieces are smaller than a pea. Add 3 heaping Tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt and lightly mix to incorporate. Now add enough cold water to make a stiff dough. Depending on the consistency of the yogurt, this amount will be between 6 and 8 Tablespoons.
Knead the dough in the bowl until it is soft and smooth; cover with plastic wrap and let rest while you make the filling. Wrapped tightly, the dough will keep up to 24 hours in the fridge.
Make the filling: Meanwhile, boil 4 or 5 medium-sized red potatoes until their skins crack, about 22 minutes. Slip them out of their skins as best you can and cut the potatoes into ½” dice. Peel and finely chop half of a medium-sized onion. Top and tail 8 ounces of carrot and chop into ½” dice. Have 1 cup of frozen peas available.
Grind 2 Tablespoons of coriander seed with a mortar and pestle or in a small grinder.
Heat 3 Tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat until melted. Add the ground coriander seeds and brown for 30 seconds until they sizzle. Add the onion and carrot and sauté them, stirring and flipping every so often, for 4 or 5 minutes until the onion is soft. Add the turmeric, curry powder and salt and cook for another minute. Add the potato and cook the whole mixture for a few minutes more to incorporate the spices. Add 1 cup of frozen peas right at the end; stir them in and remove the pan from the heat.
Heat a small frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1 teaspoon of butter and, as it begins to sizzle, add a teaspoon each of whole coriander seed and yellow mustard seed. Fry for 20 seconds or so until the seeds begin to pop. Do not overcook or the seeds will take on a burnt flavor. Immediately stir these crispy seeds into the potato mixture.
Assemble the samosas: On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin until the dough is 1/8” thick. Using those ubiquitous plastic lids from cheese, yogurt or deli tubs, stamp out 4½” rounds of pastry. Re-roll and re-stamp any scraps until you have at least 10 rounds of pastry.
Put 2 or 3 heaping spoons of the filling onto the middle of each round. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little water or milk to strengthen the seal.
On each samosa, bring the sides of the pastry up and over the filling to meet at the top. Gently squeeze the pastry to stick the edges together at the crest and then squeeze your way down each side. Now turn the samosa on its side and, using a fork, seal the edge. Turn the samosa over and do the other side, just to be sure.
Bake the samosas: Preheat your oven to 375°. Put the samosas edge up on a lightly grease cookie sheet and bake for 25 minute until lightly browned. Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes and enjoy!
Note: These savory snacks also freeze well. To reheat, bake frozen samosas at 350° for 20 minutes. Lay a small piece of foil loosely over each samosa to keep from overbrowning, if desired.
Copyright © 2012 by Don Hogeland